Vintage sound has become the new modern. To this end, Mojave Audio (Burbank, California) has released its adaptation of the vintage Sony C37A large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone. The original C37A, developed and first released by Sony in Japan in the mid-1950s, shared very little technology with the German microphones from the same era, making the Sony mic a unique and valuable addition to a microphone locker. The electronic and physical design of the C37A resulted in a compact tube mic with natural tonal qualities and extremely high SPL handling capabilities. In the 1990s, Sony reissued the C37A as the C-800, but their C-800G became the standard for pop vocals with its much brighter capsule, and the C-800 was discontinued. Mojave has picked up the torch and recreated the original C37A (with modern technology) as the Mojave MA-37.

The Mojave MA-37, like the original Sony, is a large-diaphragm, multi-pattern tube mic, capable of cardioid and omni patterns, with a hypercardioid response between those two settings (more on that later). Most multi-pattern microphones use dual-sided capsules wherein the polar pattern is adjusted electrically, but the MA-37 uses a single-sided capsule with an adjustable acoustic baffle to control its polar pattern. The user simply turns a small screw set in a slot in the rear of the mic’s grill to move the internal acoustic baffle and change the polar pattern. The practical result of this acoustic pattern control is a mic that produces a smooth off-axis response in cardioid mode and a very predictable omni response.

This tube microphone is compact and good-looking, with a body about six inches tall and two inches in diameter. Its small size, even with a 1-inch capsule and tube inside, is partly due to the mic’s simple electronic circuit – and partially because the custom-wound Lundahl output transformer is located in the power supply instead of inside the mic’s body. With its built-in mounting yoke/mic stand adapter, the mic fits in tight spaces and looks great on camera. The chrome grill allows you to see the diaphragm inside, and its matte “vintage gray” lower half is perforated, allowing air (and light) to pass through the body.

The original Sony C37 used the 6AU6 tube (like the current Sony C-800), but Mojave went with a European EF86: a more readily available tube and a fine substitute for this circuit. The tube should last many years in this microphone. The hefty (5.5 lb.) power supply for the MA-37 measures 9.5 inches by 7.25 inches by 4.5 inches and is finished to match the mic’s body. The power supply provides a 5-pin connection to the mic, a standard XLR audio output, a power switch, and a 3-position bass cut control, with settings for flat, 100 Hz, and 200 Hz roll-offs. The microphone kit, which comes in a custom-cut foam-lined Pelican-style carrying case, includes a generous 24-foot/5-pin Canare cable, so hanging the mic on a tall stand should never be a problem.

The sound of the MA-37 is quite special and unique. Most popular modern large diaphragm microphones lean towards the bright end of the spectrum, but this mic leans the opposite way, with a dark and smooth timbre. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear, accurate, or articulate – it simply does not hype the high end. I would compare the tone of the MA-37 more closely with large ribbon mics, like the RCA 77s/44s and AEAs, than with modern, bright vocal mics. I found it refreshing to record drum overheads, guitar amps, trumpet, and even vocals without fighting sizzly or sibilant highs. The MA-37 takes EQ exceptionally well, and a wide bell boost of 10 dB around 5 kHz couldn’t make cymbals sound harsh – simply open and natural. During mixes, I often find myself reducing highs or trying to add thickness on so many tracks because many mics are just too bright. On the other hand, tracks recorded with the MA-37 were a refreshing change with thick, rich tones that sound true to the source. I put it to the test during a few tracking sessions, and here are my thoughts.

Vocals sound natural or even a bit subdued, but not what I would call dark. In fact, as stated on Mojave’s website, this style of mic (the original Sony C37A) was the choice of Mel Blanc for his Looney Toons voiceovers for Bugs Bunny, and The Flinstones, plus notable vocalists Bob Dylan, Bono, and Daniel Lanois [Tape Op #37]. The warmth versus presence of vocals can be shaped simply by adjusting the mic’s bass cut control, and the proximity effect of the mic can be reduced by moving the polar pattern to omni. Interestingly, with the polar pattern screw set between cardioid and omni, the mic provides a hypercardioid pattern. This pattern offers high directionality and deep nulls at 110 and 250 degrees off-axis. In this pattern, the MA-37 provides a farther “reach,” vocals or spoken words can be recorded at a greater distance while still sounding present, but without picking up too much extra room tone. I used the MA-37 in place of my Shure SM7B for some Zoom meetings, and the results were excellent, although overkill for this purpose!

Guitar amps sound amazing through this mic! The MA-37 can handle upwards of 130 dB SPL, so a roaring stack won’t overpower it. I found the mic useful in both close and distant mic’ing scenarios. The Mojave doesn’t provide the edginess (brittleness) of a Sennheiser MD 421 or the midrange bite of a Shure SM57, but the amp will sound very much like what you hear in the room. Distant placement on guitar amps provided a fat and warm ambience that would be hard to match with any reverb unit.

Drum overheads and drum room mic’ing shined. Even for a nu-metal drum recording, the MA-37 added a useful thickness to the whole kit, especially the snare. Cymbals sounded natural, and the room sounded thick and wide. I have used original Sony C37As as drum overheads and section mic’ing on violin, viola, and brass, and have always found them excellent for big band, film-scoring, and even pop records in this use – so I have no doubt the MA-37 would serve similarly. Any source that tends toward brittle, nasal, sibilant, or strident will likely be represented musically by this mic.

All-in-all, I found the MA-37 to be a versatile mic, useable in almost every situation. For Top 40 vocals, I might choose to go with a mic that has a bit more high-frequency presence, but only mics with clean high end could beat it (with the right amount of EQ). The MA-37 provides a wide range of tonal options, and its sensitivity is suited especially well for loud sources – even close mic’d drums are game! I feel it has a more controlled low end than ribbon mics, so for close mic’d sources (especially vocals) and on instruments with lots of low-frequency output, the MA-37 would stand well in place any favorite ribbon mic. The Mojave MA-37’s features, build quality, and sonic performance place it in the category alongside other celebrated studio mics. Don’t let its price scare you, as you won’t find a decent vintage Sony C37A for under $7,000.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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